Sit down. Shut up. Take off your clothes. Pick up a machine gun.
And don’t forget to buy something on your way out the door.
That’s the prevailing message American society delivers to its young people. But you wouldn’t think that to hear the geniuses at “Fox & Friends” talk, as they jack up Mr. Rogers! Instead, they imagine that telling a child he or she is special is the cancer at the core of a culture in decay. That self-esteem is weakness. That TV is reinforcing bad character.
They’re right about that last one, but not for the reasons they think. The problem isn’t Mr. Rogers telling kids to revel in who they are, or a multiracial (and multispecies) “Sesame Street” making learning fun. The problem is that we have an entire generation of children (maybe two generations) bereft of programming that wasn’t specifically designed to sell them something.
Our beloved cartoon characters were Bugs Bunny, Scooby-Doo and the Super Friends (even the less-than-super Wonder Twins). Today’s cartoons are half-hour-long commercials for toys made by other, even more profoundly exploited children. Hell, we even had one “Star Wars” movie released before the action figures were dreamed up. Today’s kids got a steady televised diet of “My Little Pony” or “G.I. Joe.”
(Here’s what a bunch of smart people say about the issue. The rest of this post is just my all-too-familiar nonsense.)
When we got a tiny bit older, our television fare was “Drawing from Nature with Capt. Bob,” “Jabberwocky” and “Zoom” (at least if you grew up where I grew up), or maybe “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” (which, I acknowledge, has an advertisement right in the title — though I’m not sure how many kids are bugging their parents for a whole-life insurance policy).
Today’s kids watched “The Hills,” “The Real World” and any other MTV-spawned cavalcade of booty-shaking, bitch-slapping and rule-breaking.
And we have a generation of kids who haven’t known even a single year of peace. America has been at war continually since the 21st Century began, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
So, yeah: Blame Mr. Rogers and his entire neighborhood. I never trusted that X the Owl.
I don’t care what your political beliefs are or what terrible things you had to endure at some point in your life, even if that point is now: If you’ve got a problem with Fred Rogers, you’ve got a problem with yourself.
While many, including me, ridicule today’s “trophies for everyone” culture, and shake our heads at kids clad in Kevlar before every bike ride, none of us would trade our childhood for theirs.
I can only hope that Mr. Rogers’s critics are, in fact, masters of irony. Because no one who had the benefit of “The Electric Company” can be this dumb, right?